Skirmish

All I want for Christmas…

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SantaWith the holidays upon us it might not be a bad time to look at some goodies. This has been an especially good year for gaming and the recent months have seen some very high quality releases. Below are just a few items you might want to add to your list…if you’ve been nice! . .

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  • Board Games

    • Star Borders: Humanity 2ed and Star Borders: Aliens are two notable sci-fi titles from Victory Point Games. Surprisingly high-quality components and a quick playing but engaging game system make for a real win. Best of all is that there is more to come.
    • Star Wars Armada from Fantasy Flight Games looks like it could be more fun than X-Wing.Heroes of Normandie
    • Galaxy Defenders may seem a bit odd but it is a nice co-op/solitaire sci-fi tactical game. Take a little XCOM and a dash of Men in Black and have some fun saving the world. Very nice components.
    • Heroes of Normandie from Devil Pig is 15mm miniature gaming as a board game. Tons of options available with even more coming. Fight through the hedgerows in just a couple of hours.
  • Miniature Games

  • Computer Games

    • Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm Player’s Edition is certainly at the top of the list of computer wargames to check out. Excellent Cold War action.
    • Combat Mission: Black Sea gives you more modern warfare with the CM engine moving to a hypothetical conflict in the Ukraine. Available for pre-order.
    • Space Hulk: Ascension will scratch the sci-fi corridor itch. Who doesn’t want to give Genestealers a special present?War in the West
    • XCOM Long War. Thought you were tired of XCOM? Think again. The Long War mod adds a huge host of improvements to the venerable sci-fi tactical game.
    • War in the West is out now and could be Grigsby’s finest. Refight the campaigns in the West on a grand scale. Can you do better?
    • Wars and Battles is perhaps the worst name ever for a wargame but for the iPad it is one of the best wargames to date.

[Updated: 5DEC14]

Future Warfare

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COD Advanced WarfareWe don’t usually cover first person shooter computer games on the site but we were impressed enough with the trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to make note of it. What caught our attention wasn’t whether it may or may not be a good game but simply the amount of future tech the game seems to highlight. If you are a sci-fi fan there is a lot to be seen even in just the trailer. Also see the short trailer.

Most obvious is the exo-skeletons but as you watch the trailer all kinds of interesting things appear. The troops have advanced communications gear, jump packs, climbing gloves, grenades that seem to home in on their targets and air burst as well as grenades with various target marking and obscuration capabilities. There is at least one heavier powered armor troop as well. There are some high tech vehicles including dropships, different types of VTOL aircraft, hover bikes, heavy walkers and advanced tanks. Oh, and lots of drones.

Edge of TomorrowEven if the game turns out to be disappointing it should be fun watching some gameplay videos just for the environment. It will be interesting to see what else shows up in the game.

And speaking of exo-skeletons, we were pleasantly surprised by Edge of Tomorrow. Not a bad film at all and it also has some interesting future tech and scary aliens.

From a tabletop gaming perspective there are of course plenty of games with these themes. But certainly the most directly applicable is the new 28mm Anvil Industry Afterlife line that addresses the exo-skeleton idea directly. Their recent Kickstarter will be bringing even more goodies to the line. The Anvil line is all resin and is exquisitely cast. They even have their own new set of rules that should be worth a look.

4Ground – Cafe Gondree

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Cafe GondreeFor the D-Day 70th Anniversary 4Ground released a number of new pieces. The famous Café Gondrée from Pegasus Bridge fame was one of them. As usual 4Ground did the pieces in 15mm, 20mm and 28mm. We picked up the 15mm and 28mm models. 4Ground keeps getting better and better with their quality but Café Gondrée must be their finest piece yet. It doesn’t have the level of internal detail that some of their other buildings have but the external detailing is simply amazing at both scales.

Assembly was very easy for both models but very time consuming. It’s probably at least a couple of hours for each one. Much of the detailing is delicate, especially in 15mm, so extra care is needed. There are a couple of minor misfits on the 15mm model that will need a couple of cuts and at least one mistake in the instructions. As usual the pieces come out of the frames with almost no cleanup needed. Also refer to historic photos to get the chimney placements correct.

Below are the two scales together for comparison and the open view of the 28mm model.

Also see our 4Ground Building Review.

Sci-Fi Terrain — Buildings

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Kum GarageOne thing every gamer needs is lots of good terrain. Nice looking terrain enhances the play experience and plentiful, well placed terrain increases tactical options. This is especially the case for skirmish and small scale games. Games like Mercs, Deadzone, Infinity and others all come alive with good board layouts. Luckily producing good terrain, specifically buildings, is easier than ever.

Buildings
There are four primary types of materials used to make model buildings: resin, hardfoam (a form of resin), laser cut wood (or plastic) and injection molded plastic. Each material has its advantageous and disadvantages.

  • Resin – Probably the most common resin buildings are those produced by Gale Force 9 in their Battlefield in a Box line. These have the advantage of being highly detailed, pre-painted and ready to go right out of the box. They are moderate in weight and slightly fragile. Depending on the scale and environment you are trying to represent the Gothic line or even the historical Flames of War line are useful.
  • Hardfoam – The most numerous options for hardfoam buildings and terrain come from Micro Art Studio. Hardfoam is quite detailed and easy to paint. It is also light but somewhat fragile. Its biggest disadvantage is that it is solid so hardfoam buildings almost never have an interior and models cannot be placed under them either. This of course limits their use in certain situations.
  • Armored ContainerLaser cut – Laser cut wood (plywood, MDF, etc) as well as newer PVC products are perhaps where the gamers’ options have recently really started to increase. Manufacturers have gotten better and better with designs and choice has grown considerably. Laser cut buildings have the advantage of variety in design, detailed accessible interiors and complex layouts. They are also generally quite durable. Their big disadvantages are that they need to be painted well to really look good and often lack sufficient surface detail. The process itself also limits designs to a certain degree. 4Ground really set things on fire with their pre-painted line of buildings. They only have historical buildings at the moment but have announced a sci-fi line is coming soon. Crescent Root Studio has perhaps done even better but so far has no sci-fi options. Manufacturers we particularly like are Warsenal, Underground Lasers, Micro Art Studio, Systema Gaming and Spartan Scenics.
  • Injection Molded Plastic – The nirvana of gaming building material is perhaps injection molded plastic. It is relatively cheap, has high detail, is easy to work with and easy paint. It is also light and reasonably durable. Its main disadvantage is basically choice. Until recently Games Workshop had the only really useful line of plastic buildings available, but of course you were stuck with the Gothic look. With the arrival of Mantic’s Deadzone a whole new line of Battlezones were also created. The Battlezone line is comprised of a variety of pieces based on a 3 inch square. Gamers can assemble them in almost infinite ways to create buildings and environments that suit their needs. Certainly future options will help break away from the cube to create even better variety.

Gaming Surface
Of course even great buildings need to sit on something. Thanks to recent technologies the old grass mat is no longer needed. Certainly gamers can use foam board and other materials to create detailed urban battlefields but far easier, cheaper and more portable options (and more practical for actual gaming) are the new gaming tiles and mats. This was perhaps started in concept by Games Workshop with their Citadel Realm of Battle Gameboards but they never took the line anywhere to its full potential. It took Secret Weapon Miniatures to produce its upcoming Tablescapes line to start to unlock the varied options of plastic molded gaming boards. Tablescapes are one foot square injection molded plastic tiles in a variety of designs. What is great about them is that because they are plastic it is very easy for gamers to glue them together and use regular modeling techniques to create custom sizes that fit their needs. Or one can simply leave them as individual tiles for maximum flexibility.

District 5 MatOf course plastic tiles still have to be painted and stored. An even easier and quicker solution is the new gaming mats produced on the rubberized ‘mouse pad’ material. Probably the first to produce a variety of both 4’x4′ and 4’x6′ mats was Frontline Gaming with their FAT Mat Mega Mats. These give a great looking surface on which to place buildings and terrain but are also flat and smooth for easy gaming. Mantic produces a similar Deadzone mat and now Micro Art Studio probably has the ultimate urban mat with its new District 5 mat. What is unique about District 5 is that it has a geomorphic design so multiple mats can be placed together to create varied urban layouts.

Lastly we should also mention Hawk Wargames’ Cityscape and Ruinscape line of urban tiles. They are designed for 10mm gaming but easily used for 15mm or even in 28mm as sidewalks. The ‘scapes are full-color cardboard tiles you can layout to create varied cityscapes. Keep them loose for variety and flexibility or glue them to board and enhance as needed for an even better look.

There has never been a better time to fight in the city. So go grab some buildings and storm the gates!

Deadzone – Painting

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Stage 1We finally got some paint on our Plague Deadzone miniatures. They are made of the restic material that is never fun to work with and is horrible to file and sand. There is often a seam in an annoying spot. Many of the models need quite a bit of cleanup but some are not too bad. But once completed they all look quite nice and generally reward the effort.

As you can see they take paint quite well and are very detailed. Drybrushing and/or dipping will make quick work of most of them. In this case we used a wash and layer technique but we think we’ll try a dip on the Stage 1 next time around. In the photos the Plague are based on the Secret Weapon Miniatures Flight Deck bases.

The Plague Stage 1 and 2 are both quite large. In the photo below we put it next to a Space Marine Terminator and you quickly realize how brutal the Stage 1 really is!

The Deadzone scenery is very nice stuff. The buildings go together easily and it’s fun coming up with different configurations. The idea that they can remain snapped together is probably not realistic in most cases but you can certainly make sub-assembly sections that you can reconfigure easily enough. We’ll have more shots of some buildings soon.

If you like sci-fi tactical games give Deadzone a look. It has a unique mix of elements that creates something quite new. Also don’t miss the Deadzone playing tiles coming soon from Secret Weapon Miniatures.


[Updated: 1AUG14]

Chain of Command in 15mm

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Chain of CommandWe finally had  a chance to get in some games of Chain of Command from TooFatLardies. Because we are still painting up our 28mm forces — and because we have tons of 15mm Flames of War forces — we decided to try it in 15mm. It not only worked just fine but looked great at that scale. Two issues came up using FoW-based figures: First, tracking casualties was a bit cumbersome. We later came up with the idea of using colored bases under the FoW bases that would denote the number of casualties off the stand. This would probably work just fine. The second issue was a positive one; because Chain of Command is very team focused using the standard two FoW infantry stands per squad works out just fine and makes movement and placement generally clear. You of course do lose a bit of placement flexibility but this is generally not a big problem but visually can be odd at times (such as when moving down a road or along a hedgerow).

But we liked how that worked so much we went ahead and based up some 15mm figures individually. We used custom plywood bases from Litko. General troops went on 15mm round bases, heavy weapon and crew got 15mm square bases and we put junior leaders on 15mm hexagon bases. Senior leaders, with two figures per base, went on 20mm hexagon bases and 20mm square fit well for weapon teams such as Bazookas, snipers and observers. Mortars and MG’s we placed on 1″x1.5″ bases (standard FoW small base). Not shown in the photos below are the colored bands applied to the back of each base to denote squad affiliation. This all worked out very well. The different base shapes makes it easier to pick out different troops with the smaller figures. Another idea could be to base troops on 20mm bases and use some of the excess space to add color for easier identification and spotting. You could also use the different base shapes for different squads as well.

With individually based figures casualties are easy to remove as is moving troops between teams and breaking off troops. You can also place the figures exactly where you want them. The only real downside to the individually based figures is that they are a bit fiddly to move around and on a nice table can actually be hard to see. But with the low unit count in CoC this really was not an issue.

While we have not tried it yet I think a combination of the above two approaches could be ideal. Start out with the regular FoW-based figures and as casualties are taken or units broken off convert them to the individually based figures. One could easily make unit trays as well for the individually based figures.

In the photos below you’ll see some of the American Late War Armored Rifle platoon figures (all Battlefront miniatures in this case). The fields with walls terrain piece is from Crescent Root. Buildings are from Crescent Root, JR and Landmark.

Overall we really enjoyed Chain of Command. If you like WW2 skirmish games give it a shot and don’t worry too much about scale and basing. Basing really doesn’t matter that much so just go with what you have or your preference.

Space Hulk Computer Game — Now Available

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Space HulkSpace Hulk the computer game is now available for PC and Mac on Steam. There is a video interview where you can see a nice overview of the game from the designer.

I have now finished all of the missions in the game. Simply, it is Space Hulk! The game is very close to the original board game. The minor changes are noted below. For many, especially veteran players, this is a good thing. But it can present a mild hurdle to new players. The game has a good introduction but one will still need to spend a bit of time reading the rules to fully understand what is going on — and some of the current bugs can cause new players even more confusion. Mission variety seems very good but there are only 12 missions in the campaign plus the training missions. The AI also seems quite good. It is not amazing but puts up a reasonable fight. Three levels of difficulty help players match their skills with the AI.

Changes from the Board Game: As noted by the designers,

“We have made a video game out of the board game, and not made a 1:1 translation. There are certain rules and mechanics that we changed to make it play as a video game.

These include:

  •  Flamer uses a template and does not target a section only (since those do not exist in a video game)
  •  As long as a unit has action points left, you can return to it and do actions on it
  •  We automated move+fire against visible enemies for Storm Bolters. Terminators will shoot while moving if they have an enemy in line of sight. Targeting doors is a manual process using the “Set move and fire target” button. Manual process is also required for limited ammo weapons like the assault cannon.
  •  You can move multiple units at the same time
  •  Space Marine timer is optional
  •  Reworked and automated the command point usage in the enemy turn. Jammed weapons will automatically unjam if there are command points left. Interrupting enemy turn is not possible
  •  Librarians charge their force axe automatically if they would otherwise lose a close combat fight
  •  Guard mode and parry rolls are automated”

I wanted to comment on one complaint that some are making regarding the changes. Some are claiming that the ability to intermix unit commands fundamentally changes the game. I disagree with this sentiment. While this change is certainly a departure from the literal rules of the board game it is a very natural change. In fact, I was on the second mission before I even realized I was mixing the actions of units because it is such a natural thing to do. Doing this in the board game would be tricky as one would have to track the remaining APs for everyone. This change is of course a departure from the board game but one can argue it makes it better and provides for more tactical choices. The change does perhaps make it a little easier for the Marine player because you can now see the outcomes of actions and decide on actions that in the board game you could not. But overall it still retains the spirit and fundamental play of the board game even if it is not a strict implementation of it. Moreover, this change does not force you to play that way. If you want to play with the board game rules of having to perform all APs on a particular Marine before moving to another then you can. So you have the best of both worlds.

The counter argument to the above is that the AI moves the Genestealers with the same intermixing of APs. True but I just can’t see how this really matters. Either a Genestealer is being fired at when it moves or it is not. If it is not under fire then all units are going to be able to move as they wish anyway. If it is under fire then either it is killed or not and the unit behind revealed. The one situation where this matters is when a group of Genestealers is advancing and being fired on by Overwatch. In the board game it would be one Genestealer at a time moving. So say you had three squares of movement under Overwatch. Each Genestealer would have to brave the full three squares of fire. In the computer game one Genestealer could move up behind another and thus get cover for the portion of that movement where the lead Genestealer survived. This can make it slightly harder on the Marine player but considering the AI could generally use a tad bit of help this seems like a good thing. Yes it is a departure from the board game and if you are concerned over whether the game is a literal translation of the board game then this is indeed a difference, but also one that simply does not matter to the spirit and play of the game. Lastly, in my last two missions I watched for this action specifically and did not see the AI employee the tactic even once. It sent the Genestealers at me one at a time. So if the AI does use this ability it is certainly not frequent.

Of course when playing against a human opponent the above changes make a larger impact. But considering both sides gain an advantage I, again, don’t think it fundamentally changes the game. Whether it changes the balance of some missions will only be known after dozens if not hundreds of plays. Again, both sides could agree to use all APs for each unit to emulate the board game so players still have a choice.

One could argue the flamer rule change is significant as well but we played with essentially the same change as a house rule to the board game for decades because the tile-based flame rule simply never made any sense to us. In fact, over the years we have made all sorts of house rules and balance changes as we’ve played. Does this mean we were not playing Space Hulk? It just seems like an argument without purpose. It is still Space Hulk. Enjoy!

Bugs: Version 1.03 is now available. I finished the entire game with the only bad bug being the Mission 6 bug fixed in 1.01.

  • Even in 1.02 there are still problems with the Manual. Some omissions and typos and many of the images are not visible.

Minor Complaints: The character animation is quite good but the Marines move very ponderously. Realistic and fitting perhaps but after a few minutes you’ll wish they’d just hurry up. Surprisingly, while I was very annoyed by this slow pace at first after a few missions it became a non-issue because you learn to give an order and move on to another Marine while the prior one is moving. Between that and just thinking of tactics the Marine pacing stopped mattering. But I do think there should be an option to speed the Marines up. I can understand how it will really bother some players. Panning the screen with the mouse is too slow but you can right-click and drag it around quickly. Keyboard commands work just fine. It can be a bit difficult to see doors in the 3D view and you have to sometimes pan/zoom around or jump to the strategic map to see what is going on. Door location and status is very important in Space Hulk so this is a concern. Animations can sometimes be off with shooting going off on a tangent yet still killing the target. It would also be nice to maybe be able to play as the Genestealers against the AI although the AI may not be able to pose a good enough challenge as the Marine player. Lastly, the inability to customize the look of your forces or pick other Chapters is disappointing, but I suspect this will come as an add-on later for sure.

A larger issue is the lack of a true campaign where you follow units through various missions and see them increase in abilities. This could hurt larger acceptance among some gamers. Ultimately Space Hulk is about sacrificing some units to achieve the mission so such a campaign system would need to be designed well and/or have unique missions. Of course XCOM showed you can have a good campaign even where units die a lot.

Graphics and Sound: I almost hate to comment on these because they really come down to personal preference. Space Hulk does not have the latest cutting edge graphics and effects. It is more than good enough for me but only you can judge that for yourself. There is a fair amount of clipping. I am enjoying the 3D view more as I play. Some of the levels are quite nice with walkways that go over seemingly bottomless pits and equipment that hums and glows. I’ve found myself just zooming around sometimes looking at things from different points of view just because it looks cool. Considering this is not a first person shooter it all seems more than adequate. Animations are ok with some better than others. If you are expecting amazing flawless animations you will be disappointed. Certainly some of the zoomed-in ‘action’ shots show some oddities. Sound, when it isn’t being buggy, is good but not great. There is nice ambient noise. The various sound effects are ok but not amazing. Overall I’d say graphics and sound are good and more than sufficient for a turn based game.

Conclusion: Overall if you liked the board game you will probably like the computer game. If you liked XCOM you should give the game a try. It is a bit slower paced and somewhat less varied than XCOM but it is still an interesting and tactically challenging game with good atmosphere. The ability to play over the Internet and hotseat (not to mention against the computer) should keep re-playability high. But Space Hulk has always been a good occasional pick-up game not something you play constantly over the long term and the computer version does not really change that. I look forward to seeing how they expand the game in the future.

For a somewhat more negative look at the game see Wot I Think: Space Hulk from Rock, Paper, Shotgun but this was written before the 1.01 patch. I think the current issues are minor annoyances at worst (unless you are suffering from a technical issue).

Tips:

  • Right-click and drag the map to move it around quickly.
  • You can stack orders, you don’t have to wait for one unit to finish before going to the next.
  • Don’t forget to check your Command Points at the start of your turn to see if you want to re-roll.
  • Clicking the square behind a Marine backs him up. Clicking more than one square causes him to turn around and walk to the spot.
  • Use the strategic Map (M key) to easily check for door location/status.
  • Don’t forget to check you have given orders to ALL your units before ending your turn; it is easy to forget a few Marines.
  • Consider saving a Command Point or two so units on Overwatch can clear a jam.

Space Hulk Corridor

[Updated: 23AUG13]